Thursday, May 29, 2008

Foot gourmet

Ok, so this is a little strange and a little bit outside the scope of this blog but I have to tell you about it anyway. Yesterday Toshi and I went Oedo onsen to have our feet nibbled at by little toothless fish. These little guys are called 'doctor fish' and they have been imported from Turkey to eat the dead skin from people's feet (and presumably other parts of the body). For around ten bucks you can put your feet in a pond and experience the very bizarre sensation of having hundreds of little fish nibble at your feet. Once you get over the initial ickyness of it all, it's actually quite nice.

Salary man gourmet

Every weekday at around 17:30, thousands of Japanese salary men make their way to Ga-do shita (literally meaning 'underneath the train tracks') in Shinbashi (an area of Tokyo next to the well-known Ginza). Ga-do shita comprises hundreds of tiny hole-in-the wall type establishments which specialize in anything from yakitori to beef gut stew to sushi to you name it - oh and of course lots of beer, sake and shochu. It's a really cool place - the food, while not of superior quality, is good and cheap and the atmosphere just fantastic.

Ga-do shita

The kushi yaki place we went to...

Kushi yaki

A yaki tori place at ga-do shita - an absolutely incredible use of a very small space

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Routine Gourmet

There are a three places that we always go to whenever we come to Tokyo, and usually we go to them more than once. One of them is Vin Vino, the other Kiryu and of course the yakitori place I wrote about in my last post.

Vin vino is a standing bar in Ebisu. It first opened in 1999 and was one of the first standing bars in Tokyo. Toshi first went there in 2000 and has been a regular patron ever since. What is special about the standing bar concept is that in a country like Japan - which has a fairly closed culture where it can be quite difficult to meet people outside of your immediate group - it allows strangers to easily mingle amongst each other. In fact it's almost impossible to not strike up a conversation with others who are there because Vin Vino is about 20 metres squared in size (including the bar itself) so with 20 people inside it feels like a very intimate gathering. Vin Vino is owned and run by Kon chan who loves 80s rock music and pumps out cheesy 80s music videos around the clock.

Vin Vino

When Toshi and I were there last December the Japanese 'Whisky World' magazine was shooting photos for a feature of standing bars in Tokyo - and we made it into the magazine!

That's us!

After a few drinks, we go to Kiryu, a two minute walk from Vin Vino. Kiryu is an izakaya (literally a place where you sit and drink) style restaurant that is very low key but serves fantastic food. There are a few dishes that we always have (their menu never changes) - yamaimo teppan (baked yam), natto (fermented soybean), maguro yamakake (raw tuna with raw egg), asari kare (clam soup curry).
Baked yam

Tuna and egg

Last night we had dinner there with friends from Jakarta - Cathy and Alan, who are in Japan on holiday and are heading off to London soon for a car rally from London to Cameroon (!!) - they have promised to do some guest blogging here with stories from their travels so I am very excited about that!

Alan, Cathy and Keiko

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nippon Gourmet

Last night we went to one of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo – Toriyoshi – it’s a little yakitori (literally grilled chicken but it’s soo much more than that) joint on a little street near the train station in Nakameguro. I love everything about this place. I love how everybody sits around the counter, which fits eighteen people tops and hungry patrons line up patiently outside waiting for a seat to become available. I love the hustle and bustle of the chefs around the grill who expertly cook up some of the most delicious food I have tasted. I love the freshness of the food, the beautiful way in which it is presented, and the incredible skill of the chefs and the rest of the staff. I love how the beer is perfectly cold and the sake completely pure. The thing I love most however is chouchin. Now I don’t really know how to describe this in English, or do it in a way that won’t sound revolting. Basically I suppose it is some liver with the reproductive system of a chicken on a stick and the yellow part (see below) is so incredibly tasty that I can only describe it as a flood of pleasure in your mouth. It took me a while to have the guts to try this as it really does not look very appetizing but once I did, there was no turning back.

The delicious sake

Icy cold beer

Amuse bouche of daikon and quail eggs and tsukemono (pickles)

Grilled broad beans

Gingko nuts, kidney and chicken cartilage


The amazing chouchin

Chicken meatballs

Quail eggs




This was all that was left at the end

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Long time and nothing from me. Heading to Japan now so a 'Japan special' is coming right up. Very excited!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mutton dressed as lamb

I am delighted to introduce Rosie as today's guest blogger. Rosie and I met in Jakarta sometime in 2002 and have shared many embarrassing experiences since that time. Most recently Rosie has been in Afghanistan from where this 'interesting' korma recipe originates.

Over to Rosie....

  • Lamb shoulder
  • Pumpkin
  • Tomatoes
  • Red onion
  • Tomato paste
  • Garam masala
  • Garlic
  • Parsley


For survival cooking in an Afghan kitchen in winter you will need a 1970s inspired lamb skin vest, kashmir wrap, woollen jumper, thermal underwear, fingerless gloves, Campari (neat), as pictured below.

Mutton dressed as lamb
The first time I made a korma it started out as a lamb roast. By the time the meat was roasted in a tiny electric box, it was too tough to chew and grey, and it was clear this lamb was no spring chicken. The resident guesthouse cook took pity on me and turned it into a korma simply by hacking up the nasty mutton and throwing it into the pressure cooker with some tomatoes and pumpkin.

Afghan sheep are tall furry beasts that feature a massive deposit of fat that swings over their bottoms. For months I thought sheep were goats because of their habit of grazing on plastic bottles and garbage. This should explain why the meat is completely inedible.

While you think you will be buying fresh succulent lamb from the butchers’ market.. will actually buy a 14 year old sheep covered in detritus.


  1. Don your thermals, woollen jumper, fingerless gloves, lamb vest and big Kashmir scarf (as above) as it should be around minus ten degrees celsiusin your kitchen. Pour a Campari, get a little toasted, and get your lamb out.

  2. By now you should have realized the lamb shoulder you bought from the market is actually a very very old sheep. It should be difficult to cut through the flesh, so try to keep the pieces small as you cube it. Throw this into the pressure cooker, along with twice as much cubed pumpkin, two roughly chopped onions, ten chopped little tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato paste, a cup of water and a splash of oil. Add a teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon of garam masala, and some pepper if you want to be fancy. Don’t stir it, Afghans never do. Screw the lid on, and place over a powerful industrial strength flame that threatens to set your fingerless gloves on fire.
  3. Let it pressurize the meat and vegies for fifteen minutes or so, then release the steam and open the cooker to add chopped parsley and more water. Another five minutes and there you have it, one of many variants on the Afghan korma.

  4. Serve with some dahl, yoghurt, champagne, Afghan naan and an increasing feeling of isolation.

The Afghan Pressure Cooker
The Afghan pressure cooker is a solution to all cooking disasters - you can load it up with overcooked flesh or over-salted veges, and it breaks that mess down into a delicious golden stew in minutes. A large metal urn-like contraption, you fill it up, screw the lid on, bang it on the raging industrial strength flame, and watch it shoot out jets of steam that smell like a sheep. Of course, Afghans also like to steam their vegetables in the pressure cooker, revealing a preference for a diet with minimal colour and nutritional value.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

So civilized

Singapore airport is so civilized. Sure it's annoying to have to spend a whole day in an airport in transit when one could be doing much more useful things, but it's actually been quite relaxing and nice.

I'm in the new terminal building, where I have free and fast internet access. I had a delicious hot and sour noodle soup at a very decent Chinese restaurant for lunch followed by a reasonable foot massage, and now, I'm sitting in a wine bar writing this blog, while sampling three good Italian red wines from the wine tasting menu (note to my mum - they are not full glasses - just a little bit of each) and snacking on some very nice Brie.

Things could be much, much worse...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ai manas part two

So here is that post about the ai manas - the delicious Timorese chili I wrote about last week. I searched for it high and low on my way to the airport on Saturday and finally found a plastic water bottle full of the stuff at a little road side stall. It cost a dollar.

You can make ai manas by grating a lot of really hot small red chilis, chopping fresh limes into small pieces, chopping some onions very finely, mixing it all together and adding some salt. It needs to rest for a few days, so the flavors can meld together and then it's an absolute show stopper. I keep eating and eating it, even when it really hurts because it's so damn hot.

I'm in Bali now - my favorite place in the world. Off to Australia tomorrow to see family and friends. I wonder if I can sneak that bottle of ai manas through...